Friday, January 23, 2015

Pad "Life"

Have you ever wondered how long flute pads last?  It may be surprising to some if pads need to be replaced during a COA, but try to think back...  How long have the pads been in there?  Have they reached their lifespan -- and what is the lifespan? 

We spoke with Powell Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out just how long one should expect a pad to "live."  She told us that on average, it's about 5 years for flute pads, and anything older than 6 or 7 years should really be replaced.  Although there is no absolute guarantee for the lifespan of a pad, it is important to note that there are different "aging" factors in pads because of the difference in materials.  For instance, felt pads have a cardboard backing, and Straubinger pads have a plastic backing.  The plastic is more durable than the cardboard, so the Straubinger pads will last longer.  Also, moisture will affect felt pads in a much greater way because felt pads are comprised of more "organic" materials.  Rachel tells us moisture causes the felt and cardboard in a felt pad to shrink -- and it is also what causes them to smell "moldy" over time.

Using the feeler gauge after repadding.
However, there is one crucial "sign of aging" with pads that certainly determines when they need to be replaced -- resonance.  Loss of resonance means it is time to replace the pad, and this is particularly true with Straubinger pads, which Rachel says, "are known for their crispness and resonance."  She tells us that she had many customers who had pads replaced during a COA or overhaul and noted how much better their flutes played.

As for piccolo pads, they don't wear out as often as flute pads.  Why is this?  Well, Rachel tell us that there are two main reasons: (1) piccolos are usually not played as much a flutes, and (2) piccolos have wooden tone holes that are softer than metal tone holes.  She says piccolos also have some cork pads which will definitely last longer because they are made to handle moisture better.

As we can see, pads will not last forever, but they do have a decent lifespan.  They can also make a world of difference to your flute.  So if you get your flute back from repair, and your technician says s/he replaced some pads, see if you can tell the difference!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cleaning Supplies

Cleaning supplies are under the case, inside the case cover.

When you purchase a new Powell flute, you'll notice that it comes with a microfiber polishing cloth, a swabstick, and a gauze swab.  It's essential to your flute's well-being to keep it clean and use these items everyday, making sure to swab out the flute thoroughly and use the cleaning cloth to wipe off the flute after you play.  It seems elementary, but these basic steps of flute maintenance should help keep your flute healthy and prevent issues that might occur in flutes that are not cleaned regularly and properly.

The cleaning items that come with your flute each have their own longevity, so we spoke with Powell's Director of Service and Quality, Rebecca Eckles, about finding replacements for these items when the time comes.  In a previous post, we discussed how you can clean the polishing cloths and swabs (follow this link to read that post).  However, we realize that eventually, these items will need to be replaced -- or perhaps you would simply like to have extras.  Luckily, each item is available through the VQP Shop on the Powell website.  Ciick here for the link to polishing cloths, here for the link to swabs, and here for the link to swabsticks. These links take you directly to the flute supplies, but swabs and swabsticks for piccolos are also available in the VQP Shop.  Follow this link for a one-piece piccolo swabstick and this link for a two-piece piccolo swabstick.  Silk piccolo swabs are also available -- follow this link to view them.

We realize that the gauze swabs will probably be the first cleaning supply that needs to be replaced, and Rebecca mentioned that you could use something other than gauze. She currently uses small pieces of t-shirt material as a swab for her flute and told us that you could use this or any material that is 100% cotton, absorbent, and soft.  As simple as it seems, it will do the trick.  And remember, do not use any treated cloths for the inside or outside of your flute.  Keeping your flute clean will make a world of difference.

Cleaning supplies that come with a new Powell flute: swabstick, swab (inside cloth), and polishing cloth.
Gauze swab inside the polishing cloth.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Life for Tarnished Flute

We caught up with flute finisher Karl Kornfeld this week after he completed quite an amazing transformation on flute that had been left alone, unplayed, and badly tarnished.  As you can see in the photo above, he was able to transform this flute back to its original beauty.

So, how did he do this?  Well, he had the chance to document the process in a series of photos which you will see below. It's not the same flute as above, but it was one that was tarnished nonetheless...

Tarnished footjoint 
Keys must be removed.
Footjoint goes into the ultrasonic cleaner first.  
Footjoint after the ultrasonic cleaning.
Footjoint is dipped in an acidic solution to remove the tarnish.  After this, it goes through the ultrasonic cleaner again.
Polish is applied.
Polishing keys with a "tarnish ragging cloth."
"Tarnishield" is applied to body.
"Tarnishield" is applied to keys.
Keys are ready!
Everything is reassembled, and the tarnish is gone!
The process seems pretty straightforward, and it essentially is -- but it takes a great deal of time and careful hand work.  Karl told us that it normally takes about 4 to 5 hours to complete the tarnish removal and polishing process.  The flute featured in the photo at the very top of this post was extremely tarnished, and it came in to the shop needing a complete overhaul.  So, in the case of that flute, the total time from start to finish was roughly 19 hours!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Should They Stay Together?

A few weeks ago, we discussed the seal on piccolo headjoints and what steps to take if you think the headjoint is not sealing properly (click here to revisit that post).  Now that we understand how the seal is created, and how the headjoint and tenon fit to create this seal, we can address another topic -- leaving the headjoint on the piccolo in the case.  There are lots of cases out there, single or combination cases, that allow you to place the piccolo, fully assembled, in the case. Most single cases, including cases for Powell Signature and Custom piccolos, have one section for the body, and one section for the headjoint -- and there is a good reason for this!

Powell's repair technician, Rachel Baker, reminded us that when you assemble the piccolo, the (tenon) cork compresses to create the seal.  When you disassemble to the piccolo, the cork has a chance to expand and "breathe" a bit.  If the piccolo is kept assembled in the case, then the cork stays compressed.  Rachel told us that a cork that is continually compressed would then need to be replaced twice as often. So, technically, yes, it would be okay to keep the piccolo assembled in a case, but it is most definitely not recommended by our repair technician.  Help give your piccolo's tenon cork a longer and healthier life by using a case that keeps the piccolo headjoint and body apart in separate sections.  Sometimes separation is not such a bad thing...

Friday, December 5, 2014

Cleaning a Tarnished Footjoint

Ever wonder how tarnish is removed?  Well, this week, we had a very tarnished flute in the shop for repair, and flute finisher Karl Kornfeld captured the process of cleaning the footjoint...

Footjoint disassembled before cleaning:
Dipping the footjoint in the ultrasonic cleaner:

How it looks after the ultrasonic cleaner:
Dipping footjoint in acid tarnish cleaner:
After the acid bath:
Applying metal polish:
Polishing Keys:
Finished keys:
Applying TarniShield: 

The clean footjoint body:

Friday, November 21, 2014

Quick Fix for a Piccolo Pop!

In a previous post, we learned that you can check if your piccolo headjoint is sealing by doing the "pop test" (follow this link to the read the previous post).  But, if you don't hear a pop and feel that there might be a leak, what can you do in a quick fix?  We checked with Powell's Repair Technician, Rachel Baker, to find out!

The answer is actually quite simple -- cork grease!  Rachel told us that you should put cork grease on the body tenon cork.  The grease will help moisten up the cork and create a better seal.  Definitely made sense to us as we recalled another previous post where the application of cork grease helped to solve a mysterious problem with a piccolo.  The problem in that situation turned out to be a headjoint that wasn't sealing properly (click here to read that post).

However, as we got more into the conversation with Rachel, she mentioned a couple of other points about the seal on a piccolo headjoint.  She told us that when it comes to the seal of a piccolo headjoint, the metal fit is the most important.  In fact, when she is working on piccolos, she makes sure there is a proper metal-to-metal fit and then checks the cork fit. She said the cork is actually a fail safe so that if, over time, the metal-to-metal connection does not seal properly, the cork is a backup.  In fact, she even demonstrated this with a piccolo at her bench -- which did not have a cork because a new cork was going to be put on the tenon.  She showed us that even without the cork, the headjoint was sealing, and we could certainly feel it!

So, if you are having issues with your piccolo, don't forget about the headjoint -- and cork grease.  It's a "quick fix" but actually might have more longevity than you'd expect!

Piccolo from Rachel's bench that did not have a cork -- yet. 
Metal-to-metal seal is the most important.  Red arrow points to the inner ring that goes inside the top of the tenon (yellow arrow pointing to where inner ring goes).  The top of the body tenon will then fit into the headjoint between the headjoint's inner and outer rings.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Standing Waters

Repair technician Rachel Baker swabbing out a kingwood Custom piccolo.

We all want the best for our flutes and know that the question of humidifying wooden ones in particular comes up quite often. Should you use a humidifier?  Is it overkill?  Can it cause more problems?

Well, we've gotten feedback from our staff, customers, and artists, and we realize that there really is no "one size fits all" answer to this question.  Some people do not use humidifiers and travel from place to place, climate to climate, and have no problems.  Of course, if you are playing your wooden instruments regularly and taking proper care of them, you may not need to use a humidifier.  In a previous post on wooden flute maintenance, we shared the following:
Our wood technician assures us that the best way maintain a wooden flute is to play it regularly.  If you play it for a while, leave it for several months (untouched), and then pick it up to play it, you will notice differences which may make playing the instrument difficult.  However, if it is played consistently, the wood will be acclimated to patterns of being played, swabbed out, placed in the case, and then played again.  
However, one thing that did surprise us recently in a conversation we overheard was the idea that wooden instruments do not need to be humidified because there is enough moisture in the bore after playing.  Hmm.  Well, yes, there is certainly moisture in there after playing, but you do not want to leave it that way!  With wooden instruments, you have to make sure that you thoroughly swab out the bore of the body and headjoint.  Never leave moisture in your wooden instrument -- it could lead to all kinds of problems, including cracking.  

However, we don't want to forget about metal instruments when thinking about "standing waters."  They are certainly not good for the inside of metal flutes, so proper swabbing is crucial there as well.  And, make sure to never put anything in the flute bore and leave it there to absorb the moisture -- like those "fuzzy" looking accessories.  If you use something like that inside the flute to absorb moisture and leave it in there, well, you'll only be left with something moist and fuzzy inside your flute with no place for the moisture to go!

So, remember, swab out your flutes and piccolos thoroughly, take good care to keep them clean, check to make sure everything looks alright inside and out, and if you have any questions or concerns, don't let it wait -- contact your repair technician.